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Locking Up the Poor: Laura’s Response

By Laura Walton

This is a response to Christian Harvey’s article about the Omnibus Crime Bill that was recently passed in the House of Commons. Check out the article here.

The new “tough on crime” bill is challenging. It is meant to grab the attention of voters who are misinformed about the crime rate and create buzz that the government is getting tough. However, I do think we need to be careful not to dismiss incarceration altogether. We need to do our utmost to protect victims of crime and those who are negatively impacted through no choice of their own but by those who make poor life choices.

Crime is declining in many ways but studies show that it is increasing in areas such as elder abuse, domestic violence and child pornography. These types of crimes attack the vulnerable. I agree completely it is smart to invest in prevention rather than incarceration but there still has to be consequences for those who commit crimes and to protect those who are victims of crime. There are criminals who have committed heinous acts and will never be rehabilitated. As Christians we do believe in redemption but as one who studied criminology I also know that there are some people that are so morally, emotionally and socially damaged that they cannot safely live in an outside community. To expose communities to this danger is morally wrong. We cannot ignore that those who are sociopathic in nature may never be able to integrate safely. We need to incarcerate those who are true threats while also creating programs for those who are candidates for rehabilitation and support.

Many of our offenders are victims themselves as Christian points out. I’m sure if there had been new and preventative programs had been in place before they offended the chance of being an offender or repeat offender would have been reduced. If the poor, mentally ill, Aboriginal and other minority members who fill our jails had proper social programs available to them it would substantially reduce their numbers within the legal system along with the recidivism rate that these marginalized groups struggle with.

It is well known that crimes of abuse and violence are often learned and are cyclical. If you break the cycle, you lessen the chance of offences being committed. This takes time, money and substantial social assistance programs to do this. All which are much more beneficial than incarceration. There are programs that are increasing crime prevention, including an increase in youth-at-risk programs, doubling the National Crime Prevention Fund budget, and creating the Youth Gang Prevention Fund and the National Anti-Drug Strategy. These are all positive steps as are the Restorative Justice Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs. They are programs that attempt to address some of the social issues affecting the cyclical nature of an offender. They are far from perfect or enough but they are a step in the right direction.

Along with programs that are both pre and post offence, we also need to hold people accountable for actions that are the result of poor choices. Most people know right from wrong and to not hold one responsible for poor choices is an easy way out. We need to create an environment that acknowledges the failings of our system while holding those who offend accountable. Our justice system is truly flawed but must be amended to create a supportive, fair and safe environment not just for the offenders but the victims of crime as well. We need not only to be fair to those who are threatened with incarceration but to those who were harmed in the commitment of a crime. Vengeance cannot be the goal of our justice system but fairness. ”Tough on crime” has to mean preventative toughness not deterrence toughness. True justice will be found in the ability for the system to integrate programs that take into account those who are victims of the current system and culture along with those who are victims of the offenders. When a balance is struck and compassion is shared on all levels then justice will be present.




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